“FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS” is the theme for the annual conference of the Lutheran Concerns Association (LCA), being held today in Fort Wayne, Indiana. (Seems like about 80 people here right now, many of them convention delegates, both lay and pastoral.) As the day’s conference goes along, I will be doing a “live blog,” updating this report as we go along, so check back from time to time.
OPENING DEVOTION, former LCMS president Robert Kuhn: Hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation.” Conference theme, “For Such a Time as This” (Esther 4:14): The Lord has raised up often unlikely candidates at key times to do his work: Moses, Esther, Paul. Kuhn is not willing to give up on his church mother (the Missouri Synod) any more than he would forsake his birth mother.
“THE FORGOTTEN ARTICLE–AUGUSTANA XXVIII AND HOW IT OPPOSES THE STRUCTURE PROPOSAL,” Pastor Fritz Baue: The use of power, in Scripture and Confessions, is to serve, not to lord over. Structure proposal, “Congregations Walking Together in Mission”: The term “Pastors” is left out of the title. Proposals frequently invoke “Congregation” and “Mission” but the proposals themselves do not show the connection. Many proposals sound OK on the surface, but a closer examination shows a consolidation of power toward the districts and the synod president. Most of the proposals decrease the power of congregations and pastors, while increasing the power of the synod president. Main problem in our synod is theological not structural.
“WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE A DELEGATE AND WHAT EVERY DELEGATE NEEDS TO KNOW,” Pastor Peter Bender: Delegates will be inundated with communications from all sides, all claiming to be faithful to the Scriptures and Confessions and for the good of our beloved synod. Politics is the use of power and influence in order to act. Politics itself in unavoidable; it is part of life. It can be bad or good. Politically correct phrases that must be used by all sides: “Missions,” “Scripture and Confessions,” etc. All are socially conservative on abortion and homosexuality. Before the convention: Do your homework on convention rules. Delegates should read and study the Lutheran Confessions, in order to judge claims to confessional faithfulness. Daily devotions in Bible and catechism. Read and study the synod’s Handbook. Read all the political communications, from both sides, and do so in light of Scripture and Confessions. Attend meetings (such as this); ask questions. Familiarize yourself with parliamentary rules of order. Develop mindset that convention delegates are not the savior of the church. At the convention: Distinguish between what’s really important and what isn’t. When speaking at mike, don’t be an “ass”; be brief, thoughtful, well reasoned. Don’t go to mike too frequently. Vote your conscience. Be prepared to lose; be gracious in defeat and humble in victory. To prepare for the two extra days at the start of the convention, devoted to the restructuring proposals, delegates should read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest those proposals, as tedious as that may be.
“TRANSFORMING CHURCHES: PROGRAM AND PRESCRIPTIONS,” Mr. Joe Strieter, member of Ohio District BOD: 2007 convention was a Jesus First sweep: elections, SMP, more appointed members to BORs. Also passed was Res. 1-01A, “To Support Revitalization of LCMS Congregations,” which opened the door to the Transforming Churches Network (TCN) program. It is a “Church Growth” program, not Lutheran in its basis, and comes from a Baptist named Paul Borden. Transforming process: 1. Create a sense of urgency. 2. Congregational self-study (heavy emphasis on “growth”). 3. Consultation weekend. 4. Consultation report. 5. Vote to accept report or not (all or nothing). “Strengths,” acc. to TCN: Recognizing need for “change,” etc. “Concerns”: Lack of vision, inward focus, ineffective structure, etc. Prescriptions: 1. Season and day of repentance. 2. Visioning process. 3. Accountable leadership. 4. Outward forcus events. 5. Leadership development. 6. Triads (three-person small groups). Linchpin of TCN: Accountable leadership (#3), structure and governance. Single most dangerous prescription. Pastor as powerful church-growth CEO. Two major flaws in TCN: 1. The gospel is assumed. 2. The ministry is distorted. Some TCN prescriptions would be OK, in the right context, if properly theologically based, e.g., repentance, an outward focus. Ohio District has changed and adapted the Transforming process–deleting, adding, revising–to make it Lutheran, true revitalization.
“COMMUNITY CHEST OR CORPORATE OVERHEAD: THE TRUTH ABOUT SYNOD FINANCES,” Mr. John Edson, CPA, member of Board of Human Care: Synod’s financial statements are summarized in broad categories. But this is not the whole story. Those statements don’t tell you how exactly, in detail, the money is being used. 2010 budget for corporate synod as a whole, $1.1 billion dollars. Includes CPS, CUS, LCEF, Districts, etc. Types of funds: unrestricted, temporarily restricted, permanently restricted. Synod has borrowed money from designated giving (and its interest) for general use cash flow. Legal, but is it ethical? Numbers can be used to make financial picture look different. Unrestricted giving may be negative, but if designated money is transferred, it can make financial picture look better. The problem: Using restricted and designated funds to cover the cash flow of corporate synod’s operating losses. Currently spending outside our means. In the last ten years, membership of LCMS has decreased by 8%. Solutions: Operate within our means. Increase financial support for missions, human care, seminaries, and colleges. Increase the connection of the people in the pews with the synod. The solution is NOT the proposed restructuring. Restructuring will minimize contributions to missions and human care by reducing visibility.
“THE NEED TO CONTINUE RESIDENTIAL SEMINARIES AT FORT WAYNE AND ST. LOUIS,” Mr. Walter Dissen, former BOR member for both seminaries; Pastor Tim Rossow; CSL Professor James Voelz; CTSFW Professor William Weinrich:
Dissen: We need to maintain both residential seminaries. Some have suggested we should eliminate one or both of our seminaries or disperse our faculties to do pastoral training at our universities. Regarding DELTO and SMP, an analogy between the spiritual and the physical: If you had cancer, would you want to go to a highly trained professional doctor or to someone who has taken a short correspondence course?
Rossow: The residency part of a seminary program in theological formation–you just can’t beat that. We need theory, not just praxis. It is foolish to have two types of pastors, one with twice as much theological education as the other.
Voelz: Follow the money. Corporate synod does not value seminary training anymore, compared to our synod’s founding. Two seminaries helpful: Not good to put all your eggs in one basket. Also, our synod is still relatively large, compared to other denominations. Reasons may vary for why people may want to reduce residential seminary education: 1. Costs too much. 2. That much training not needed, too long, too difficult. 3. Bad way to form pastors, they are not effective. 4. As seminaries go, so goes the synod, and that’s bad. Contributions of residential seminaries: Our graduate schools have profound influence around the world. Service to synod. Continuing education. SMP was an improvement on the “wildfire” district licensed deacon programs; it put the training under the aegis of the seminaries.
Weinrich: Single most important factor in the development of a vocational understanding of the ministry is the connection to a faculty and residential education. Seminaries are a way the church expresses its faith intellectually. Seminaries are institutions of: 1) ecclesial consensus; 2) continuity; 3) unity; 4) common experience. If seminary faculties are dispersed to the universities, theological education will become marginalized there and would come under the governance of schools not devoted to training pastors. The high commitment level of our students, when they come to seminary, has always been our strength.
“PRESIDENT KIESCHNICK’S BLUE RIBBON TASK FORCE ON STRUCTURE AND GOVERNANCE,” Pastor Jon Furgeson and Mr. Christian Preus, former BOD member:
Furgeson: “Answers from the Top Down.” Reasons given by Task Force: mission and stewardship. Congregational representation, delegate process proposals: Proposal #11) Fix number at 650 delegates, saves money. But that affects how delegates are chosen. Proposal #10) District conventions will choose delegates to national conventions. Districts will determine how to choose delegates. Proposal #6) Congregational representation at district conventions. Extra delegates for large congregations. Proposal #5) Allow commissioned ministers to be voting delegates. Could take place of pastor. Overall, proposals are hierarchical in nature. Don’t just look at the recommendations in the final report; closely examine the actual changes in the constitution and bylaws in the appendices.
Preus: At regional gathering, Task Force did not talk about the actual language of the proposals but about their intent. But what matters is what gets into the Handbook, the words on the page. Vague language allows people to interpret constitution and bylaws in different ways–which some may like. Clarity vs. ambiguity. What do the Task Force proposals mean? Many examples of vague words and phrases. Major provisions of relationship of synod and members: Changes in language–“collective will, expressed in convention resolutions”–raise troubling questions about synod being an advisory body. Intent should match language. Language should not need explanation. Current–Synod is a creation of the congregations. Proposed–Synod is a creation of itself. Regional gatherings are a “sales job,” a dog-and-pony show. Their surveys are stated so as to create a show of support, not to get genuine feedback. Implementation of the proposed changes would be a huge problem.